Another member of Gov. Rendell's inner circle has left to work for a Marcellus Shale natural gas producer, the third high-ranking administration official in the last year to move directly into the fast-growing industry.
Sarah Battisti, one of Rendell's five deputy chiefs of staff, has taken a government affairs position with BG Group, a British gas company that recently bought a stake in Pennsylvania's natural gas business, Steve Crawford, Rendell's chief of staff, said Monday.
With seven months remaining in Rendell's term, Battisti's departure could signal a migration of experienced administration aides into the natural gas industry, which is regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection and is deeply enmeshed in a legislative debate over proposals to tax gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation.
"One thing the industry appears to have at their ready disposal is money, so they're hiring lots of people to help with their lobbying or permitting problems," Crawford said.
Battisti's departure comes two months after Barbara Sexton, the executive deputy secretary of environmental protection, left to work in governmental affairs for Chesapeake Energy Corp., an Oklahoma company that is one of the nation's largest gas exploration firms.
And last fall, K. Scott Roy, Rendell's executive deputy chief of staff, raised eyebrows when he went to work for Range Resources Corp. Roy was chief liaison between the governor's office and the gas industry and environmental groups, and his hiring came soon after Rendell dropped efforts last year to enact a natural gas tax. The governor said Roy's new job had nothing to do with his decision.
Crawford said Battisti had not played a critical policy-making role on natural gas issues. Battisti, 31, who has worked in the governor's office for seven years, "was more monitor and note-taker than decisionmaker," he said.
Efforts to reach Battisti for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.
Natural-gas drilling has increased dramatically in Pennsylvania in the last two years as operators have tapped into the mile-deep formation that underlies much of Pennsylvania and several surrounding states. The drilling is contributing to an economic boom in rural Pennsylvania, but also triggering environmental protests.
Unlike Roy's, Battisti's departure comes as relations between the administration and the industry have become frosty amid Rendell's campaign to enact a severance tax on gas production. In recent months, state agencies have churned out a stream of news releases about enforcement actions against gas operators for environmental violations.
Crawford said that there had been a "distinct chilling of the industry's willingness to work with the administration. At the same time, there have been a series of chilling events that have disastrous implications for the industry's image."
In one of the latest incidents, a well operated by EOG Resources Inc. blew out on June 3 in Clearfield County and spewed out of control for 16 hours. DEP is scheduled to release an investigator's "very disturbing" findings about the incident Tuesday, Crawford said.
Under Pennsylvania's so-called revolving-door law, state officials who leave government service are barred from lobbying their former agencies for one year.
Crawford said Battisti would not be permitted to lobby the governor's office or the Departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources.